When was the last time you cared much about what kind of car your Uber driver had?
A slow sense of panic is already starting to set in for those who make their living driving cars for transportation because as we keep hearing, the autonomous car will strip away jobs from taxi drivers, truck drivers, delivery drivers, and more. However, they may not be the only ones that could be wiped out during the transition. As Bloomberg so eloquently stated, the auto industry itself could be poised for a massive consolidation that could see many of the large name brands we know today collapse.
The reason why is that currently, automakers distinguish themselves in a number of ways, and styling aside, one of the most prominent means of doing so is with driving style. It’s the way a car feels when it drives that guides a buyer to their choice ride, which is why brands set up an entire identity behind their driving styles. Cars like the Honda Accord feel solid and make driving feel easy, albeit with no frills. On the other hand, cars like the Volkswagen Jetta feel as if they could be telepathic while Lexus tends to skew towards lofty comfort. None of this will matter once a car can drive itself. “In the long term, automotive brands are gone,” said retired General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz.
“If you get on a city bus or an airplane, do you care who made it? There won’t be anything left to car brands in 20 years,” he said. Lutz’s claims follow the increasingly accurate prediction that cars will soon become transportation pods that provide a service, not objects that are owned, cared for, and bonded with. After all, when was the last time you cared about which car your Uber driver picked you up in? Companies like Ford, BMW, and Jaguar are experimenting with ways to stay prominent during the shift by debuting their own forms of ride share programs. Unfortunately, even if that tactic works, there is still no doubt that the massive cog in the economy that is the auto industry will suffer from the shift.
The companies that do survive will have an entirely different set of priorities to attend to, none of which include the driver. Ride quality will still be important, but comfort will likely be championed because if everyone is a passenger, then the focus will be on what a car can offer the rider. Almost as high on the list of priorities as comfort and convenience will be connectivity. That area is expanding in cars now but it will be of paramount importance since most commuters would rather tend to emails before getting into the office than be stuck in traffic wasting time. GM President Dan Ammann even highlighted that the new priorities were similar to that of airline companies, which try to sway customers by advertising unique services they deliver.
In the future when cars are ordered one ride at a time using an app, riders will care more about which car has larger screens, more legroom, special features like massage seatings, or even the latest video game console. The one advantage that automakers do have over the tech companies is that the public already recognizes and trusts their brands over that of a no-name startup. In either case, the effects of the advent of autonomous vehicles will ripple far and wide from within the industry to almost every aspect of our modern lives.